Inside IT
Mobile Phones, Location Awareness, and Your Digital Entourage

Emerging Tech Trends and Issues

It is amazing to see how our digital ecosystem continues to evolve rapidly. The tech industry is mashing up location data with an exploding wide range data to develop services and applications to fulfill our complex and dynamic daily information needs. This transformation that leverages data about our whereabouts reminds me of the well-used expression: There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location. With the growing reliance on location data and cellular communication networks, I began to wonder how does this expression matter in today’s mobile ecosystem.

This week I am in Washington D.C. for meetings. I rolled into town with my entourage…Oh you thought I was going to tell you that had a “crew” assisting me with driving, organizing meetings, taking notes, getting coffee, serving as my muse, providing security, and so on. LOL!!! 😉 Well I am a professor (great purpose-filled life but without the trappings of a Hollywood A-List/Life Style of the Rich and Famous budget; more champagne dreams and a peanut butter and jelly budget).

My entourage is one person – me, myself and I – and my mobile devices: A powerful, mobile “digital entourage”. I am “rolling deep”, as they say, with a disruptive innovation paradigm embodied in my mobile phone that has disintermediated my personal entourage with a digital entourage. My mobile phone is buried conveniently in my outer pocket and my laptop is tucked away in my messenger bag. Increasingly at home and on the road and every-where in between, my smartphone is valuable to me. It’s my personal assistant with a growing number of location-aware apps adding intelligence to my “digital entourage”.

Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial at night with city skyline. Colorful reflections of Washington landmarks in Tidal Basin.

Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial at night with city skyline.

While there is an interesting debate in the origin of this expression: “location, location, location”[1], it is clear that the value of a property depends on everything we know about its location. We want to know everything about the place and what people are doing in that place. But given our mobile lives, the tech world is disrupting things in a way by saying essentially there are three things that matter in the user experience: location, location, location. With our mobility and design focus on “mobile first” and “mobile always”, the most valuable property is the detailed contextual information not only about a fixed location, but also about the person in that locationat that particular moment as he or she uses their digital device to produce or consume information.

The chief goal is to predict what information the user needs at a specific moment in time at a specific location while considering the micro-level context of his or her activities. The name of the game in our digital ecosystem landscape is to develop a user experience contextualizedfor each individual based on the whereabouts of their screens. Driving the likelihood to achieve this is the growing ability to infer what information a person needs dynamically based on the availability of location data, troves of individual data, methods to match location data with activity and behavioral data, algorithms to process large amounts location data, and visualization techniques. In terms for understanding why the tech industry is driving to mobile always design, location-awareness tools and data help to improve the factors influencing user acceptance of mobile devices.

word cloud - mobility

For example, let’s look at some of my information needs during my trip to Washington D.C. and how location-aware apps helped me along the way. Location-aware methods combine information about a users’ physical location with online connectivity, provide access to relevant and up-to-date information, share their locations with friends through social media, and feed location information to applications to improve the user experience.

Waze ( If you are a Wazer, do I need to say more? Waze is my mainstay navigation app to compliment my other GPS-based navigation apps. Waze is “the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. You can join other drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info, saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute”. Waze provides information that helps me to know about traffic delays and the best route to my various destinations in Washington D.C.. Waze relies on other commuters to share their information about accidents, obstacles in the roadway, and speed and safety checks.

I am a big fan of the Metro for public transportation in Washington D.C.. The location-aware apps on my smart phone are invaluable to me. After departing the Dupont Circle Metro Station one morning, I needed to know my options for breakfast before my first meeting. As we are very familiar with search engines, GPS-based location data obtained through my smartphone is seamlessly factored into the search algorithm and improves the probability that the highest ranked results are tailored to include the closest places to eat including one of my favorites, a local Krispy Kreme. The Krispy Kreme iOS app goes beyond the search engine to use the same location data to provide a rich customized customer experience, including screen top alerts that the “Hot Light is On”.

flat 3d isometric design of GPS route map concept

Looking closer, the problem of predicting what information the user needs is much more complex. On a recent visit, several customers and I enjoyed our hot glazed donuts and refreshments while socializing and using our mobile smartphones. The same location data was used in each of our mobile devices. Location data helped me to get the latest news localized based on my whereabouts. Imagine that the busy manager were to use her mobile device to search for information. The algorithm processed through the cloud would need to use other contextual information to predict what she needs rather than what I needed as a customer.

There is an interesting network service provider challenge for using the location-based information to improve network connectivity. I participated in an industry meeting with the Telecommunication Industry Association to discuss pathways to next-generation 5G wireless service globally. 5th generation mobile networks are the next major phase in mobile telecommunication standards. 5G goes beyond the capabilities of 4G service that are currently available to wireless consumers. 5G focuses on providing significantly higher data rate speeds in cellular networks with projections of offering 1 Gbps to large groups of users including within buildings. It also offers very low latency. These network characteristics will be deployed to support Internet of things and massive deployment of machine-to-machine communication of low-rate devices and sensors.

During the meeting with industry leaders, the discussion quickly turned to envisioning the benefits of network service by using location data to predict user demand dynamically. Think about this from the network side. There are many benefits to predicting where additional bandwidth is needed in response to large public gatherings, both planned and unplanned. A concert or sporting event is somewhat easy to plan for with the event happening in fixed locations and on a pre-planned schedule.

On the other hand, it is much harder to predict the demand for connectivity when the event is spontaneous but likely to happen in certain areas. Consider the moment when a sporting team wins a championship. The National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors won the championship in 2015 and a huge spontaneous group of fans celebrated around the Oracle Arena and throughout public places in the Oakland-San Francisco area. With smart phones in hand, the fans jammed the cellular and Wi-Fi networks with a massive spike in traffic comprised of an exponential number of Tweets, Snap Chats, social media posts, texts and phone calls.

small group of people using cellphones together.

And it is most difficult to predict the network needs during a natural or man-made crisis. Network providers want to use the location data of each device and couple it with data from the local area, social media and search engine queriesto dynamically customize the data services locally and particular points in time.

Moving forward, the tech community will continue to harness the power of location data to improve the user experience for mobile users. Leading edge applications are using the location data to improve the development of intelligent assistants, the “digital entourage” feature I referred to earlier. You can find these features in such intelligent assistance as Google Now, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft Cortana. For the consumer, we love the benefits of location awareness in making our mobile devices smarter and more intelligent. We certainly also tradeoff our privacy as location is constantly collected and much more work is needed to continue to help the public feel comfortable.

Links for previous article series:

(1) Knowledge Management: Digitally Transforming Knowledge into Intelligence

(2) Smart Cities, Data Warehouses, Data Lakes and the Information Management Challenge

Written by Jon Gant, LG CNS Blog’s Regular Contributor


[1] See [back to the article]

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